Only the Best Will Do

As more discretionary dollars make their way into consumers’ pocketbooks, retailers have an opportunity to continue growing the pet care category by offering the right mix of innovative and healthy products.



What do consumers expect from the pet care category?

That was the question everyone was asking while walking and talking in the aisles during the first day of this year’s record-setting Global Pet Expo. Retailers and suppliers are eager to discover and discuss new products that will help keep the momentum going for the booming pet industry. 

Now more than ever, say industry officials, fine-tuning the assortment at retail is the key to keeping things moving in the right direction—whether for a small, one-store operation or the largest of supermarkets or mass merchandisers. And, as unemployment levels fall to rates not seen in nearly two decades and gas prices stay firmly below $2 a gallon in much of the country, these same experts say that the opportunity exists for retailers to cash in on consumers with more discretionary income and a greater desire to take good care of their pets. 

“There is always an opportunity for growth,” says Leslie Yellin, executive vice president of Multipet International, the Moonachie, N.J.-based manufacturer of pet toys, which has recently made a lot of noise in the industry with some key acquisitions. “The key is to have the best of the best on store shelves and combine that with great pricing that will lead to great values for the shopper. Consumers know what they want and they will buy it at the retailer that gives them a great value, plus makes it convenient to shop.”

Multipet’s recent purchases have made it a player beyond the pet toy world. Yellin stresses that the company can now also offer retailers a wide range of grooming, travel and treat products, as well as toys, from one supplier. “Look at what we offer,” she notes. “These are great products, with great colors and a lot of pizzazz behind them. They are made to sell.”

Paul Cooke, vice president - trade and industry development for St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina, is another industry executive who says it is all about giving consumers what they want. He says that in pet food, the focus is on natural products and Purina has added new natural products to its Dog Chow and Puppy Chow lines in recent months.

“With pets becoming a much more important part of the family, consumers want products that offer more,” says Cooke. “They want merchandise that focuses on nutrition, skin and coat, and dental issues. Frankly, it is almost as important to consumers to know what ingredients are not in the product as it is to know what ingredients are included.”  

Tina LeLay, vice president of marketing for Hartz, says that two trends are helping the pet category grow. First, with better care and products, consumers expect their pets to live longer, more comfortable and healthier lives. And, they expect their favorite pet retailers to stock these items. 

“We are well aware of this trend,” she says. “For example, that is why we have added specific products for older cats in our Delectables  Lickable cat treats, and they are selling very well. I think we are filling a need that no other cat treat can fill.”

The second trend is a bit more intimate. LeLay says that consumers are much closer to their animals these days, with more and more allowing the pet to even sleep in bed with them. “That means that any product that makes it safer to have the animal around is much more sought after,” she notes. “Products like flea and tick protection items, grooming shampoos and other items that keep the pet clean are in high demand. Do you realize how much the training pad category is growing? It is all because consumers are keeping their pets indoors more and need something to handle any accidents, especially for older dogs.”

Innovation is Key
According to Eric Abbey, president of Loving Pets, unique items are particularly important for any retailer looking to create a niche with consumers. “Retailers should be looking for innovation when it comes to pet items,” he says. “It will keep the consumer energized and happy, and it will make them want to come back to a specific store or chain to purchase these items. It will keep the category growing.”

David Yaskulka, vice president of marketing communications for Halo, Purely for Pets, based in Tampa, Fla., takes this idea a step further. Focusing on the independent retailer, he says that there is still plenty of opportunity in the marketplace. Halo, for example, focuses on the holistic market and, Yaskulka says, is the best-loved brand in its segment according to metrics he follows.

“But they need to differentiate themselves in the marketplace in terms of products offered, education in the aisles and being a part of the community they serve in a way that their competitors in the mass and supermarket industries cannot,” he adds. “Success will come from partnering with the brands that will give the retailer an advantage in the word-of-mouth market, especially through social media, local media and with community organizations.” 

Standing behind its product line, Halo is offering consumers a money-back guarantee that they will like the offerings. “We are very confident about our products and are prepared to give shoppers a full refund if they don’t like them,” says Yaskulka. “They will get a check back from us, without the retailer getting involved.”

Even officials at the American Pet Products Association are feeling the enthusiasm for the industry. Andrew Darmohraj, the association’s executive vice president and COO, says that more than 4,100 buyers were in attendance by noon on the first day of the show. “With all these new product launches, everyone wants to see what’s new and what’s hot,” he says. “And, not only that, they are showing up early on the first day and staying through day three because the show is so big and there are so many booths to visit. No one wants to miss out on anything.”

Perhaps Ray Parcell, the customer business manager for LM Farms, summed it up best. “Consumers are as fanatical as ever about the pet category, and they are taking things to a new extreme,” he says. “We now have growing markets for such things as pet health insurance, technology that allows them to talk to their pets while they are not at home, and even gravestones. The consumer is looking for things because their pet is a much larger part of their lives. Retailers need to stay ahead of the curve and they will be fine.”


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